What I loved about Berlin

Ages since I posted! And already as I feared…the memories are fading. For many of these places I had to recheck the names…isn’t that horrible. That all our travels eventually fade and we are left with what we know as the familiar. Perhaps that is better, because some places we know, we simply cannot go back there again. Like Berlin…I don’t know when if ever I will be visiting Germany again.

By the time I got to Berlin, I was already in love with the hostel experience. I can’t imagine a more convenient, sharing-economy stay for tourists. The Circus Hostel in Berlin had these cute little wall pods to charge…and yes, that I do believe is David Schwimmer smiling benevolently at me..and my loofah?! Lovely memories of the place, very centrally located.
The quirkiness of Berlin…There’s an interesting vibe of a radical, revolutionary young artists in the city that is so refreshing in its un-american-ness, more grubby and questioning, less superficial. This is a city that has kept these vital embers burning. Translation of the German: Blooming for a day without gender, in the toilet at Maxim Gorki Theatre
Museums of Berlin! I spent most of my days in the museums. Got me a museum pass, went to Museum Island and walked like I have never walked before. But also notice the avant-garde (?) , post-modern (?), (probably neither) structural lines at play here? Berlin pushes you to think beyond the conventional
Its single screens! One night I went and watched Golden Glove (Der Goldene Handschuh), a movie that is still sitting somewhere in my head. The tiny screen at Kino Babylon where I watched the movie was (now I discover) a temporary arrangement because of renovations. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable moment in a cinema that has stayed unchanged from 1929…quite incredible!
I think its very important to remember the Jews who were such a vibrant and integral part of German history, especially its urban centres like Berlin. This photo I took in the garden at the Jewish Museum. Unfortunately the permanent exhibition was not accessible, but the axes in the basement, the Garden of Exiles and the Voids were very moving.
Also this…Prinzessinnengarten, a community garden in the centre of town. An example again of Berlin’s strong radical left and eco activists. This garden was built and is maintained by the local community on a plot that was a “wasteland”. I think I would have enjoyed this place more if I had company…sometimes I get a bit intimidated by all white spaces..hahaha. Nevertheless, worth a visit!

The featured image is an adaptation of the cover of a book called “Berlin! Berlin! Dispatches from the Weimar Republic” by Kurt Tucholsky. I haven’t read the book, but I read up about the author and his book after I found myself standing under a street sign that said “Tucholsky Strasse”. He sounds like the kind of social-democrat, pacifist, outspoken satirist that I would have looked up to. If we need to draw our political lineages, then it would be to men like Tucholsky.

Thoughts along the Rhine River

On the 1st of May this year I landed at Bonn to attend a conference on Sustainability. This was one of the most beautiful, adventurous and though-provoking trips! I am so glad I made it, even though I have to be honest- I have always found it painful to plan vacations in countries where the exchange rate is so stacked against our currency! Call it my small-town stinginess, but that is how it is.

Although Bonn was the capital of West Germany before the reunification, it is not a town that would feature on most tourist maps. Only a conference took me here, and it was later that I learned that the city was also the hometown of Beethoven. Unforgivably, I was so tired/late on most evenings that I could not make a trip to Beethoven House. That is how life is- can’t do everything. I make peace with what I experienced.

Ducks of the river Rhine

I want to remember many things about my trip, and of Bonn one of the things I want to remember is the walk along the Rhine. Although public transport in Germany is extremely convenient, and the conference venue was only 15 mins by U-Bahn (what we call the “metro” in India) I was glad to have discovered the most beautiful riverside promenade on the first evening.

A view as one walks towards the promenade

It is always such a pleasure to walk along rivers, especially those where civilisation has flourished for centuries. It’s almost like in the quiet flow of the Rhine, I was getting a sense of German history from the dawn of their history. I always imagine that this place where I stand, was the same place where people stood before me, Here, they looked down at the river when the plague struck their town. Maybe a young Bonn Jew never saw the river again. Maybe Beethoven walked down from the Academy for a evening of reflection etc.

I was either cold or embarrassed about taking selfies

Every morning I walked down along the river, my face muffled inside a shawl and my hands protected by my little mittens. It was still so cold in May (especially for people from warmer climates!). I passed joggers, mothers with babies in prams, cyclists, and other conference-goers. Most mornings I would be finishing my breakfast, throwing banana peels, sticky strawberry stalks and coffee mugs in the bins that appeared discretely every few metres. Sometimes I stopped to watch a passing barge. In the evening, I had more time to stop and take photos or just watch people.

I always feel sentimental when I leave a place. Especially if I know that there is a very low chance I’ll see it again. So this was my goodbye shot.

What was I thinking? I would think about what happened during the day, or what I planned to do the next day. I thought about how lovely it would be to walk with someone along the promenade, hand in hand. I thought how lucky the people were who had an opportunity to live here and access the promenade. The promenade ends on the north at the Bonn University, I envied the students and the university faculty who had lives where they spent their days learning and evenings walking along the river. Some evenings I felt lonely. And some evenings I loved the green solitude. Mostly my thoughts were just how lucky citizens of Bonn were, that they had states and institutions that preserved natural resources and individual liberties. Certainly there are many things that the Germans probably struggle with, and theirs has not been an easy history. They are also not the warmest people although I have to admit this was probably biased by my over-consciousness and cultural differences.

An interesting piece of metallic installation art along the banks of the river. In the distance you can see the old town

Nevertheless, after returning to India, where public spaces are disappearing under the guise of “development” and where natural aesthetic is sacrificed at the altar of garish over-construction, I am beginning to look back at my quiet walks along the Rhine with a rather deep nostalgia. Goodnight clean quiet evenings! May you provide many evenings of quiet contemplation to other travellers.

One evening, me and a friend I made at the conference hung out for a little longer

Getting to Bonn: Bonn approx. 2 hours from Frankfurt and you can take a train. I recommend downloading the DB app to look for train schedules and book tickets. You can also check prices on the Omio website. You can also travel there from Koln/Cologne.

Staying at Bonn: I recommend staying in the old town area (i.e. the one near the main train station Bonn Hautbahnhof (Hbf)). The Air B&B that I stayed at was literally in the middle of the train station and the bus stop (Maximilian Strasse).

Also here’s a link to more insights from Bonn from people who seem to have lived there

Travelling, Life and Me

This site is mainly for me to remember my travels and my life. I realised that I forget many strange and wonderful things that I felt and experienced when I went to new places. And everything becomes a small footnote, a stamp on my passport, a stray ticket stub.

The fear that I am losing my memory has always been present, but this time when I met a friend at Heidelberg, it came back with an even stronger jolt. He insisted that the last time we had met was in Singapore, sometime before 2007…and I could not even extract a shredded hint of that memory. What was happening here?

I have to remember. It is the only way to make the life we have been given worthwhile!

Along the way, I also hope that some of these memories help you when you are planning your trip!